Did anyone see the season finale of Sons of Anarchy? I was trying to tell my sister about this, and she said her co-worker Missy is also watching it, and she'd direct her to the blog. So Missy, this one's for you, if you're out there.
Now this makes me think about endings, and this is important: The ending tells what's really important. How the characters resolve the various conflicts is how you tell the reader who they really are, and what they really stand for, and what they really value. But it also tells what your whole story is ultimately about-- the theme. That's actually why good books so often go bad in the ending, I think, because they don't truly let the reader know what's important. The ending should give the reader events that show the characters and who they are now and what matters, after all else.
Well, the end of Sons of Anarchy shows a lot, but above all it shows that it's about fathers and sons. (There's a daughter too, the archvillain's.) At the center is the powerful romance between Gemma and Clay, but her actions here in the end show that she doesn't trust this, doesn't trust his love, doesn't maybe even want him to love her above all (she is selling him short, I think, but this part is definitely from her POV). Gemma has just been framed by the FBI lady for a murder (committed actually by the FBI lady). At that very moment-- and see how effectively events are stacked here in the end, so that there's no downtime at all, and no let-up of pacing), Clay and her son (his stepson) Jax are in the process of avenging her gangrape by ambushing the evil overlord. Now Gemma is, more than Clay actually, the keeper of the motorcycle gang code. She knows that by this code, their revenge and the taking back of the power of the town is all important. And she doesn't interfere with it.
Instead, she calls Wayne, the sheriff. He's an old friend, and probably in love with her, and he has confided to her that he is dying of cancer. Somehow she knows that he will help her, that his own code as a lawman will be secondary to his desire to help her-- and I think because it is not HER code, she is fine with this. And he does-- he helps her escape. She apparently never thinks to call her husband or her son (although I think they've both shown they love her and would put her first-- this is her choice, to let them do their work).
However, Jax (the son) gets a panicked call from his girlfriend, and rather than go through with the ambush, he decides to go with her (choosing love over revenge, and showing what he values). But interestingly, he says to Clay, "I have to go to her," and waits for his permission. This is (for those of us who love this relationship) where he shows that he once again accepts Clay as his father, as the authority, after a season of hating him. Clay does not do as Clay would have done earlier, asserted that authority and ordered him to finish the job of the gang. Rather he shrugs yes, and even orders one of the others to "go with your brother", thereby depleting the hit squad by a third.
Then Jax discovers that his own baby son has been kidnapped by the Irishman (who thinks Gemma killed his son-- that's the murder the FBI lady is framing her for): "A son for a son". Jax calls Clay and says only, "I need you." Clay abandons the ambush and immediately goes to Jax, telling the others, "Irish took my grandson." He chooses love over revenge, but here it's love of son/grandson. Before, his revenge was a sign of his love for his wife, but here he shows that actual love-- being with a loved one in crisis-- is more truly --now-- what he knows to be love.
(Okay, details matter!! First, he has always identified Jax as his son and Abel as his grandson, but Jax has deliberately this season referred to him as "my stepfather/not my real father". See how precisely this is written-- today, Jax says, "I need you." That's all we hear, but that is a son talking to his father, isn't it? And as Clay is talking on the phone, he's holding the phone with his left hand. Hands are very important with Clay, because his hands are becoming crippled with arthritis. On that left hand is his wedding ring. Now the director could just as easily made that the right hand, but it's the left, and the ring is showcased-- the symbol of the wedding that brought him Gemma, but also brought him Jax as a son.)
In contrast is Zobelle, the evil one, and he is definitely sorry his beloved daughter is killed (by Gemma, but in self-defense). He really is. But when he amazingly escapes death by Clay (because Clay has gone to his son), Zobelle runs, getting on the plane that he chartered. Again, watch the precision of the staging here. The clerk asks him if his daughter is coming, and he says no-- that is, the writer has shown that Zobelle does not veer from his plans because of his daughter. This doesn't happen just in his head, or offstage, but right there in the action of the scene. I think it's important to SHOW the changes and the changing in the ending-- give the reader the ammunition. (Zobelle is played by Alan Arkin's son, btw, and has that sort of grave good humor that goes interestingly with villainy.) "We adjust and adapt," he tells the clerk, showing that he has not been changed by the events. That's his character theme, actually-- "We adjust and adapt," but for him, he adjusts but doesn't actually adapt-- a refusal to adapt his values and his agenda to the circumstances. Interestingly, in this he resembles Gemma, who loves fiercely, but cannot change her certainty that the code matters more than love does.
Jax and Clay, however, show how much they have changed. Both have chosen love over revenge, and love over their code of honor. In the end, they even choose love over what they think of as manhood (protecting what's theirs). Jax cannot save his son (let's hope there's another season), and collapses, and Clay grabs him and holds him up, and the end shows the two of them embracing and weeping. For such macho guys, this is a transformation.
But this ending-- and ending HERE-- shows that this is about parental/paternal love, not romantic love, or honor or manhood. This closes the circle of the season, which started out with Jax rejecting Clay as his father.
By "allowing" her men to continue with the revenge, Gemma is paridoxically liberated from the claustrophobically intense love that ties her to her husband and son and forces her into venerating a macho code that has injured her. She accepts rather the less complicated love of friendship instead. Her parental love has been exhibited throughout the season, but here she is breaking free of the tie that binds. (I'm sure she'll come back.) The conflict for her has always been what she has willingly given up for that love-- her love for Clay leads to her being raped, and her love for Jax has confined her to a continuing mother role (she's pretty much raising his son). She also, as Keeper of the Code and matriarch to the club, has always given up what matters to her for what's required by the code. She's never counted the cost, but now she knows that her freedom is more important than continuing in her Leather-Madonna role.
SO what does this show:
1. The ending is where you decide what the theme is, what the story is really about, what really matters-- and your final scenes should show that.
2. The ending should have characters act in a way that demonstrates how and if they've changed.
3. If some characters haven't changed, that shows something about them, doesn't it?
4. Write precisely here. Make the characters' dialogue and actions say what you want to demonstrate. At this stage, the ending, the characters are raw and true, all their defenses stripped away by the plot events. At this point, they will speak more truly than they have ever before, so let them speak.
5. Watch your staging and adapt it to your purpose. Show that something's important by "surrounding" it with conflict. For example, when Clay calls off the ambush, one of the brothers protests. That highlights that Clay is going against what's expected, and what seems sensible. Similarly, the clerk asking Zobelle about his daughter sets up the display of his inability to change, his central coldness. The scenes are set up and the events are structured so that these important points can be made.